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Monday, July 28, 2008

Is Jesus the only way to God?

Note: The theme for today, Monday, July 28, is "Engaging with a multi-faith world: the bishop, Christian witness, and other faiths." This is what I wrote for today's Lambeth Witness.

Is Jesus the only way to God?

That’s the question I hear behind today’s theme, “Engaging with a multi-faith world: the bishop, Christian witness, and other faiths.”

It’s an important question to ask in the midst of the multicultural and pluralistic reality of our post-modern lives. It’s a daunting task to try and accomplish in less than 400 words.

My particular perspective is that of a woman who is a mother and grandmother. I am also a priest who has the privilege of ordained leadership in my community of faith as well as one of several religious leaders in the wider, religious and cultural community of the highly pluralistic Northeast Corridor of the United States where I call home.

I claim my gender and place in my family first not because I value it any more or less than my priesthood; rather I believe that being a woman and a parent and grandparent influences the way in which I serve and lead in the church, my family of God, as well as colors the way in which I function in the human family. That clergy sometimes use the title, “Father” or “Mother” is not coincidental.

Parents, good parents anyway, seek to help their children become who they are as individuals who gain their identity, in part, because of their relationship with the various individual members of their family.

The South African idea of “Ubuntu” – “I am because you are,” as articulated by Desmond Tutu has deep resonance with the Western European idea of “I and Thou,” as articulated by Martin Buber.

In the family systems theory of Murray Bowen as applied to parish families by Edwin Friedman, this process of developing authentic identity in the midst of others is known as ‘self-differentiation.’

We are Christian not only because of our relationship with Jesus, but because we know the Christ in ourselves and as revealed in relationships with others. In our baptismal covenant in the church in the USA, we promise to see Christ in all peoples – without stipulation to their particular religious affiliation.

If we fail to see the Christ in Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindi, and others, it is not the fault of their faith, but of how we are living into our faith.

Is Jesus the only way to God?

Someone once asked the great Louis Armstrong, “Pops, what is Jazz?”

The Great Satchmo laughed and said, “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know,”


kc bob said...

Interesting perspective Elizabeth. What of seeing the Christ in atheists and agnostics? I'd be interested in your perspective on that question.

Thanks, Bob

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, KB. I would say the same of atheists and agnostics. The responsibility to see the Christ in those who profess not to believe in a religion or in God is not dependent upon them, but upon those of us who have made promises in our baptism to see Christ in all persons.

Hope this is helpful to you.

kc bob said...

Thanks Elizabeth. I like the embracing aspect of your comment.

Maybe our focus should not be one of evaluating another's relationship with Christ but one of seeing past exterior religiousity (or lack of it) and engaging and embracing others at a heart level. When we do, I think that we find that we have much more in common than not. We also find that we can be taught as well as teach.

Blessings, Bob

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Bingo. The responsibility to see Christ in others is ours. We made that promise in our Baptismal Covenant.

I would argue that, if we do that and are serious about it, Jesus is "in it" whether someone of another faith or someone not professing one knows it or not.

I trust God to sort out all these details, not me.

If we would pay more attention to OUR "I do's" and "I will's" (with God's help) the rest of this stuff is not even an issue.

Undbrit said...

Elizabeth, would you mind giving me your e-mail address so we could discuss "Is Jesus the only way to God?" It's a bit of an issue for me, that I would like to discuss with someone more learned than myself on the subject.

Or you could e-mail me at maybe?

Sorry to bother you, but I hope you'll be interested in discussing it with me. Thank you!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

undbrit, I just sent you an email. Please understand that I won't be able to comment until much before August 8, after Lambeth and once the jet lag has had a chance to wear off.

In the meantime, I suggest you pay close attention to the comments here. I think these friends speak my mind.

JimB said...


My job is not to decide when and where Jesus becomes the road to salvation for those who walk other paths. It is rather my job to offer a hand on the journey, to tell my understanding of the revelations Jesus offered us on the goal, and to respect the dignity and judgment of my fellow travelers.

After all, while I am confident Jesus got it right, I am less sure that we who claim to follow Him do. It may well be that we have erred, and that someone following a different road is closer than we.